This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



Blake Ellis and Amelia Workman give dazzling performances in the surreal TENDER NAPALM at 59E59 (photo by Carol Rosegg)

59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St, between Park & Madison Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 9, $18

British writer Philip Ridley’s exhilarating Tender Napalm has made a magnificent transition to 59E59, where it is dazzling audiences in a tiny black box of a theater. It doesn’t get much more intimate than this oxymoronically titled show, as an unnamed man (Blake Ellis in his New York City debut) and woman (Amelia Workman) perform on a narrow strip of floor between two rows of people (approximately fifty in all), squeezing the performers into a ridiculously small space where they build on one another’s tales in a kind of exquisite corpse. They share their dreams and fantasies as if they’re shipwrecked on a desert island, talking about monkey kingdoms, bullets and grenades, genitals, serpents, a tsunami, and more in a mysterious and heated battle of the sexes. Whenever one of them asks, “Have you seen the view?” the narrative shifts, leading to another adventure. In short back-and-forth bursts and long soliloquies, the man and the woman play verbal games with each other, the audience never quite clear on what is real, what is imagined, and what is something in between, reminiscent of David Ives’s recent hit, Venus in Fur. The actors don’t make eye contact with the audience as they deliver their lines, instead looking out across their memory and into the future, coming together and running from one another in Yasmine Lee’s subtle but powerful choreography. Skillfully directed by Paul Takacs to maintain a breathtaking pace that avoids feeling the least bit claustrophobic during its intermissionless one hundred minutes, Tender Napalm features beautifully poetic moments that get interrupted by explosive bursts of passion, every new twist a thrilling surprise. “Have you seen the view?” the woman asks. The man responds, “I see auroras shimmering.” Woman: “I see trees with magical lights.” Man: “Asteroids near the sirens of Titan.” Woman: “Oh, smell of flowers!” Man: “Andromeda.” Woman: “Hyacinths.” Man: “‘You must be wondering why you’re here,’” leading to a long discourse on DNA, bombs, and unicorns. Ellis and Workman both deliver complex, inspiring performances, bringing to life Ridley’s (Vincent River, Shivered) razor-sharp, surreal dialogue in a rousing production that is not to be missed, especially with tickets costing a mere eighteen dollars.

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